John McHenry of St Michael’s Episcopal Church in Raleigh, NC might well be our longest serving volunteer at Holy Cross. He has faithfully lead a team from his church to Holy Cross every year for the last 11 years, and plans to come for many years more.
For John his connection to Belize began in his college days, when he served in Guatemala alongside the Rev. Sylvestre Romero, who at the time was a newly ordained Anglican priest leading a mission near Lago de Izabal. In addition to the lasting friendship he made with “Father Syl,” that trip also impressed upon him the difference that volunteers could make. Years later, when “Father Syl” became Bishop of Belize, John was introduced to Francis and Vernon Wilson, then serving as missionaries in Belize City under Bishop Romero. As a result, even prior to the founding of Holy Cross, John began leading mission teams to work in the interior of Belize. Thus, when John received notice from Francis that his next team would be needed to help build a new school in San Pedro, he was quick to respond.
He remembers that first visit to Holy Cross well – it was in March, so we’d recently opened our doors with just three classrooms and there was much work to do to paint the original bathrooms and work on the school kitchen and cafeteria. He also ran a small Easter Vacation Bible school, something that would become a feature of all his future mission trips.
For John there are two important reasons he continues to serve. The first is that, as Christians we are called to serve others and these mission trips are a vital part of how he, and the congregation at St Michael’s respond to that call. The second is to be faithful – in the sense of a long-term companion — with Holy Cross by caring for the school grounds, its staff, and most importantly the students that attend. While on campus, St. Michael’s helps provide a safe place for the children of San Mateo and San Pedro to learn, grow spiritually and to escape, if only briefly, the pressures and challenges of their home environment (and for some of our students, those pressures are many).
In their capacity of serving, John and the St Michael’s teams have worked on an incredibly diverse range of projects, from building classrooms, re-modeling the kitchen, improving the cafeteria, constructing the computer learning lab and composting toilet facilities, to painting, maintenance, and this year replacing the ceiling in our kitchen and painting a new sign to replace the one destroyed by Hurricane Earl.
In serving the children, St Michael’s teams run Easter-break Vacation Bible schools most years, teaching each child that Jesus is alive and can help them throughout their life journey. The children love the crafts, the songs, the games and most of all the volunteers who take time out to be with them.
Each evening, the team gathers to reflect on the big and little things that happened during the day that made the simple act of serving special. The chance conversation that changed a heart, the hug that made a moment special, the events that showed a friendship was getting deeper. Together with prayer and singing, these gatherings help the team experience God’s presence more deeply as well as to recognize Him present in the hearts and minds of the HCAS community both here at the school, and in San Mateo and San Pedro.
John also serves on the Holy Cross Education Foundation Board, consisting of a small group of volunteers representing the many churches that give generously of their time and talent to support Holy Cross School. HCEF helps build awareness, supports mission teams, and raises funds to keep the school doors open as well as undertake long-term planning. Part of the ongoing effort is to reduce electric bills by supplementing HCAS with a solar-renewable energy system, something John and the Missions Committee at St. Michael’s have spearheaded with the generous assistance of Baker Renewable Energy, located in Raleigh. The project has also benefited greatly via Global Giving, an international development crowd-funding community, and the St. Luke’s Foundation, located in Salisbury, NC. The system now in place is capable of generating about 8KW at peak, representing about 30% of the overall school energy consumption. An additional 3-4KW will be added in the next 6-12 months.
Others at St Michael’s have also found their own way to serve at Holy Cross.
Ben has served on 7 of the teams’ 11 mission trips, and has mainly focused on construction and repair tasks, though he has occasionally volunteered for VBS jobs, too. “I continue to return to HCAS and Belize because of the strong relationships that I have built with Mr. Freddy, Ms. Rosalia, and other staff and the relationship between the school and St. Michael’s church. I believe that part of my call to Christian service includes my continued service at Holy Cross, and I continue to see God working at HCAS though our team and through the hard work of many others.”
Meg was deeply moved by the women in the sewing center, who work hard to make and repair uniforms very affordably for the students yet struggle to earn an income from their work. She returns each year to encourage them, and teach a few skills. This year she was delighted to present two new sewing machines donated by her local ECW (Episcopal Church Women’s group).
When Paige returned from her first mission trip to Holy Cross and resumed her regular teaching job, she knew she could do more to help, so she got her students involved in collecting school supplies to donate to HCAS (read more about her story here). She’s now returned to Belize twice, each time with a large load of school supplies thanks to her student and parent donors in Raleigh
Depending on space, St Michael’s teams often welcome other volunteers into their group, so if you’re in the Raleigh, NC area and are interested to join, please get in touch with John McHenry (firstname.lastname@example.org).